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22 March 2015
by Collin Myers

Not a conservative western Victorian grazier

A great Australian, Malcolm Fraser infuriated the narrow minded because he would not fit neatly into the conservative, western Victorian grazier box.

This is the Prime Minister whose government rivalled and even outdid his contemporary Margaret Thatcher's budget cutting. This is the supporter of State aid to private schools at a time when such a resolute position placed him to the right of the right. This is the Army Minister in the Vietnam war.

Yet this is the same Prime Minister who identified with black southern Africa. Who defied the bureaucrats to let the Vietnamese into Australia by the hundreds of thousands, declaring that Australia had a moral obligation to those who were with us on the wrong side of the war, and whose legacy is a wonderful Vietnamese infusion into the Australian population. This is the same Prime Minister who confounded the mining industry by banning the export of mineral sands from Fraser Island on spurious environmental grounds, clinging to a discredited interim report on the island's rehabilitation, so committed was he to his own vision of conservation.

When the Aboriginal tent embassy was first established in front of the old Parliament House in 1972, only Malcolm Fraser in Cabinet had the established personal contacts with traditional Aboriginal leaders to engage in discussion from a positon of trust.

Was he an economic dinosaur, a captive of the Country Party leadership, clinging to protection and resisting the floating of the dollar and other progressive measures? Or was the truth more to do with the talent available to him at the time. Of course he gravitated to the practical, high quality leaders of the Country Party, Anthony, Sinclair and Nixon, at a time when the Liberal Party offered Phil Lynch and the still tentative and emerging John Howard.

The high standards of behaviour that he demanded from his political colleagues verged on the eccentrically severe.

When it counted, Malcolm Fraser was a man of courage who acted in the national interest. In 1975, he understood and respected what Australians wanted and he agreed with them that the growing calamity had to be ended quickly. The subsequent election confirmed his actions. He knew what was right with the Vietnamese; the passage of time has revealed his legacy.

A significant regret is perhaps international rather than domestic – that following the Hawke victory in 1983, Fraser was denied the Commonwealth Director-General's position in which he would have served mankind well. Hawke recognised Fraser's value and endorsed him but was frustrated by the politics of the Commonwealth.

Malcolm Fraser did not waste time with false praise – of political colleagues, business leaders, public servants and personal staff, often to his cost in relationships. He seized on the gems as he saw them. Those staff whom he came to value most were sensitive to this. They knew to bring to him only succinct, fully developed, robust proposals. Big, blunt Malcolm Fraser brought out the best in good people, encouraging disciplined behaviour that served many people well in their subsequent lives.

Malcolm Fraser serviced the electorate of Wannon well. He enjoyed the company of meatworkers in Portland and spent endless days in the pubs of country towns from Coleraine to Koroit. He was devoted to his extraordinarily diverse family. Tamie Fraser complemented him magnificently. He, and many other Australians, owe her much.